Welcome to Flavorwire’s streaming movie guide, in which we help you sift through the scores of movies streaming on Netflix, Hulu, and other services to find the best of the recently available, freshly relevant, or soon to expire. But since we’re a mere seven days to Halloween, this edition of the streaming movie guide will focus on the scary — some of our favorite horror movies that are at your fingertips this very moment. Check them all out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
Let’s start with the granddaddy of them all — F.W. Murnau’s vampire classic Nosferatu, which dates all the way back to 1922. An unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Nosferatu changes the names but keeps Stoker’s basic story and characters intact. So why has this antiquated, silent chiller kept such a high profile, 90 years after its original release? Two reasons: the film’s distinctive German expressionist photography, all shadows and contrasts (the cinematographers were Fritz Arno Wagner and Gunther Krampf), and the unforgettable lead performance by Max Schreck, a turn so convincingly otherworldly that it inspired a subsequent film (Shadow of the Vampire) predicated on the notion that Schreck was no actor but was, in fact, a real vampire.
It’s hard to come to Tod Browning’s 1931 classic with a clear mind; it’s a rather slow-moving and old-fashioned picture that begat countless vampire movie clichés, and it’s hard (initially, anyway) to watch Bela Lugosi work without thinking of the the smack-addicted washout of Ed Wood. But given half a chance, Dracula takes hold — its quiet power (there’s no music score, which is strangely effective) casts a spell on the viewer, and Lugosi’s performance is iconic for good reason. (Side note: some viewers actually prefer the Spanish-language version directed by George Melford, shot at night on the same sets Browning used during the day — but it’s only available on physical media, dern it.)
Netflix just put a whole mess of films on Instant (many of them unavailable on Region 1 DVD) by legendary Italian horror director and giallo trendsetter Mario Bava, but we’ll go with this, probably his most famous effort. The 1963 triptych Black Sabbath told three stories of horror in an anthology format, each more chilling than the last; moody and atmospheric, this is one of the great horror pictures of the 1960s. Plus, yes, Ozzy and the boys named their band after it.
The zombie revival is something like a decade old now, but all your Walking Deads and 28 Dayses can’t hold a candle to George A. Romero’s tight-fisted, bluntly effective 1968 original. Shot for a song outside Pittsburgh by Romero and several of his fellow industrial/educational filmmakers, Night brought an unblinking realism and semi-documentary aesthetic to the creature feature, capturing much of the unrest of the era within the broad metaphor of a zombie uprising.
Absurdly prolific Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike helmed this uncommonly disturbing 1999 story of a widower whose somewhat deceptive search for a new lady love turns out very, very, very badly for him. But what’s most interesting about the film is Miike’s precision and control; its reputation is so severe that even if you go in braced, the straightforward drama and enigmatic nature of the first half may well cause you to let down your guard. And that’s when they get you. Kiri, kiri, kiri, kiri…
Previous to Session 9, director Brad Anderson was best known for Next Stop Wonderland and Happy Accidents, a pair of light romantic comedies. So there was little reason to expect that his foray into horror, 2001’s Session 9, would turn out to be so memorably grim and terrifying. It follows a team of workmen removing asbestos from an abandoned state mental hospital. It’s a loaded premise — few things in this world are more inherently creepy than a mental hospital, occupied or otherwise — but Anderson builds a mood of pervading dread nicely, and he gets plenty of big scares without resorting to cheap tricks.
Richard Donner’s 1976 classic has become embedded in the pop-culture consciousness, to the chagrin of any kid unlucky enough to be named “Damien” in the mid-‘70s. Some of it is pretty goofy, but the film’s baroque style is why it’s so inimitable; from the whirligig camerawork to the screeching choral cues, The Omen is beautifully, deliriously over-the-top. Look at it, Damien — it’s all for you!
Many children of the ‘70s and ‘80s have tried to replicate that era’s distinctive aesthetic in throwback efforts like Hobo with a Shotgun and Black Dynamite, but few have done it as convincingly and effectively as Ti West. When his 2009 film The House of the Devil was released on DVD, it was also given a concurrent novelty release on VHS (complete with oversized case), and for good reason: it beautifully recreates the look and feel of those early videotape releases, its costumes, props, and Satanic cult plotline lending it the feel of a film recently unearthed from a shuttered video store. But West does more than point and laugh; he also borrows the slow burn patience of the best filmmakers from the era, giving us a long slow build to a delicious pay-off.
The trouble, more often than not, with horror/comedies is that they can’t get the mix right — they’re either too funny at the expense of the scares, or too scary to be funny. But these two classics, made nearly 35 years apart, are perfectly modulated; the parade of classic Universal monsters create real stakes for Bud and Lou’s hijinks, and the wry wit of John Landis’ Werewolf is a perfect counterpoint to the jaw-dropping transformations (for which the legendary Rick Baker won a well-deserved Oscar).
Jumping from our most fun films to our least, this grisly little item was made in 1986 and intended to be merely a cheapo exploitation flick. That’s not what director John McNaughton came up with, however: shot in a bleak, unforgiving style, and featuring a cast of honest-to-God actors (including the great Michael Rooker in the title role), Henry was about as far as you could travel from the cartoon villains typical of ‘80s horror. It was a genuinely terrifying picture, disturbing and unnerving, and its producers didn’t know what the hell to do with it. Their marketing confusion and the film’s trouble with the MPAA (the organization gave the film an X, and indicated no possible cuts could get it down to R) kept the film from being released until 1990, when critics — those who could stomach it, at least — proclaimed it one of the year’s best films. Twenty-plus years have not lessened its considerable power.
Those are the horror films we’re streaming this week — what about you? Pass on your own recommendations in the comments!